We would love to ride in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains throughout the year but Madrid’s winters get very cold, so unless you enjoy ice and snow, we recommend saving the high altitude rides until the temperature rises.
Luckily, the huge area to the south of the city offers fantastic riding all year round with many loops, long and short, that cater for every rider. On the rolling roads, wide open plains and punchy climbs of what is locally known as La Vega, you are sure to see local clubs and solo riders speeding through the large expanses of countryside, farmland and small towns that characterise the area.
During autumn and winter rides, wind becomes a real factor in La Vega. Your ride may begin with tailwinds that help you fly up climbs and achieve some Strava PB’s, but punishing headwinds on the way home can slow you down. This is part of riding in the area, so the right clothing and preparation is vital.
One of my favourite loops in La Vega, that features both headwinds and tailwinds, is around 90km and features a good mix of climbs and flat riding. Leaving Madrid via Villaverde, you ride 8km of main roads before reaching La Marañosa Sur, a 3.2km bike path climb averaging 2.5%. La Marañosa wakes up the legs and the long, mellow descent towards the town of San Martín De la Vega is ideal for recovering before the remainder of the ride.
Turning left from the roundabout before San Martín, you ride along wide open roads surrounded by countryside until reaching La Nueva, the main climb of the loop. Although you are just 32km from Madrid, this winding 2.5km climb that averages 4.4% and features two steep sections with a flatter central section, is very quiet and peaceful. Here, you can focus fully on your effort. As with so many of the climbs in Madrid, Alberto Contador has the Strava KOM on La Nueva, so do your best impression of El Pistolero and dance up the hill.
At the top, after riding past olive groves, the open countryside below comes into view. On early winter mornings the low-lying mist provides a magical view of the fields and villages in the distance. But don’t admire the scenery for long- it’s soon time for a fast descent towards the village of Morata de Tajuña.
After passing through Morata, you will soon find yourself on a rolling 11.2km stretch of quiet road heading towards Titulcia. This road often has a powerful tailwind, so take advantage, get into an aero position and gain some free speed.
Once you reach Titulcia it is a good time to refuel and get some coffee at one of the several cafes along the central road that are often filled with local riders. After your caffeine fix get back on the bike for the second part of loop as you head back towards Madrid.
After leaving Titulcia you will ride towards the town of Ciempozuelos before turning right and taking the long, straight road to San Martín and the start of the loop. On this road, you may have a tailwind, you may have a headwind- it really is a lottery. If you have the tailwind, lucky you- go full gas. If you’re unlucky enough to have the headwind and you’re in a group- shelter in the wheels and save some energy. If you’re riding solo there is nothing you can do except get your head down and power through.
Once back at San Martín, you leave the town and climb the Marañosa again, this time from the other side. At the summit the panoramic view of the city of Madrid appears in the distance. No matter how many times I ride in La Vega, I always love seeing this view. It tells me I’m on my way home. On clear days the dramatic backdrop of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, which are snow-capped in the winter, are visible. The view is awesome. Winter cycling in Madrid may not have the glamour of the mountains in the North but it is beautiful in its own unique way and offers excellent training and scenery in equal measure. Just remember to prepare for the wind!
Words: Charles Graham-Dixon